| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 422, 12 September 2011
Welcome to this year's 37th issue of DistroWatch Weekly! Parsix GNU/Linux might not be the most widely-used among the many Debian-based desktop distributions, but its user forums are reasonably active, with lead developer Alan Baghumian never far away to answer any questions and concerns. Jesse Smith has taken the project's latest release, version 3.7, for a test drive to see whether its custom GNOME 2.32 desktop can compete with other similar projects on the market. In the news section, OpenBSD founder Theo de Raadt opens pre-orders for version 5.0 while urging loyal fans to continue sponsoring the project, openSUSE launches a beta testing process for its upcoming release, Ubuntu board member makes a wide-ranging proposal to radically rethink the distribution's release process, and Debian developer Enrico Zini talks about his beginnings with the project and his current work. Also in this issue, a range of useful command-line tips and tricks for manipulating multimedia files and introduction to the Debian-based Proxmox, an open-source virtualization platform for running virtual appliances and virtual machines. Happy reading!
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|Feature Story (by Jesse Smith)
A taste of Parsix|
My grandparents used to keep a candy dish on their coffee table. Sometimes I would pick a candy and it would taste exactly the way I'd expect it to. Red ones would be cherry flavoured, green ones would be apple or mint. Sometimes though a candy's appearance would be misleading and instead of cherry flavour I'd get cinnamon. I bring this up because my experience with Parsix GNU/Linux was like that, not what I was expecting based on first impressions.
My first glance at the Parsix website showed a project with a clean, pleasant layout. The site is easy to navigate and manages to present an attractive design without clutter. The Parsix distribution is available in 32-bit and 64-bit editions and the DVD ISO files are a little under 1 GB in size. For my trial with Parsix, version 3.7, I opted to download the 32-bit edition.
Parsix is based on Debian GNU/Linux, specifically the Testing branch of Debian. That being said, Parsix users don't feed directly off the Debian repositories. The project maintains its own software repositories, allowing the developers to review packages and provide updates independently of upstream. We'll talk more about packages later.
Parsix GNU/Linux 3.7 - trying out applications
(full image size: 478kB, screen resolution 1366x768 pixels)
Booting off the Parsix DVD brings up a GNOME 2 desktop, featuring a menu bar across the top of the screen and a task switcher along the bottom. There are a few icons on the desktop for browsing the file system and launching the system installer. Compiz Fusion is running, though with most eye candy features disabled by default. The background is a colourful image of space and the windows feature brown borders, bringing to mind themes of Ubuntu past.
The system installer is a fairly simple beast and it didn't promote confidence. The graphical installer begins by warning users that it is still under development and might not be reliable. Then we're told we need to manually create a 3 GB (or larger) partition on which to install Parsix and create swap space. GParted is then launched and we're left to divide up the disk ourselves. Post-partitioning we're given the choice of performing an upgrade from a previous Parsix install or we can perform a clean install of the current version. We're asked where we'd like to install Parsix and what file system we'd like to use on the root partition -- the ext3, ext4, JFS and ReiserFS file systems are supported. We then go through a series of prompts which ask us for our name, username and password and we're asked to set an administrator password. The last two steps are to set a hostname and choose where to install the boot loader. The installer has a simple format and generally prompts us to type in one response per screen. In the end my install completed cleanly and I was able to boot into my local copy of Parsix.
Parsix GNU/Linux 3.7 - changing the settings
(full image size: 592kB, screen resolution 1366x768 pixels)
My first impression of Parsix was that it sticks close to its Debian roots. The desktop is light and responsive, features are generally left off by default and the workspace is uncluttered. The desktop feels pleasantly calm in contrast to some other modern desktops. Not that the system is bare, there's a wide variety of software available in the default install. Featured in the application menu we find the Iceweasel web browser, version 5, the Transmission BitTorrent client, XChat and Empathy. There's a dial-up network app, FTP client and the Firestarter firewall configuration utility. OpenOffice.org 3.2.1 is included, as is Evolution and Gwibber. The Grisbi accounting program is available along with a selection of GNOME games. There's a disc burner, a CD ripper and the VLC media player.
There are two dictionary tools, one of which displays definitions in a language I don't recognize (perhaps Farsi?). The htop and System Monitor programs are included, as is VirtualBox. We also find GParted in the menu and configuration tools for handling the network, printing, background services and user accounts. There's an app for managing Windows wireless drivers and a security editor for disabling GNOME features. For media lovers Parsix plays most video and audio formats out of the box. The Flash web browser plugin is included as is Java. For developers the GNU Compiler Collection (GCC) is installed and Parsix comes with the 2.6.37 version of the Linux kernel. (Being based on Debian Testing, the version numbers of packages may advance with time.)
Managing software on Parsix is pretty straightforward. There's an update application which should be familiar to Ubuntu and Fedora users. Available updates are displayed in a list and users can check or un-check which items to install. It's a smooth process and the update app is well laid out. For adding and removing applications Parsix includes the Synaptic package manager. The venerable program does a good job of showing us what packages are available and makes it easy to install or remove software from the system. I'm not crazy about Synaptic's interface, but I can't fault its ability to perform its function.
Parsix GNU/Linux 3.7 - checking for updates
(full image size: 366kB, screen resolution 1366x768 pixels)
Parsix managed the hardware of both of my test machines very well. I ran the distribution on my HP laptop (dual-core 2 GHz CPU, 3 GB of RAM, Intel video card) and a generic desktop box (2.5 GHz CPU, 2 GB of RAM, NVIDIA video card). All of my hardware was properly detected and utilized. Wireless networking was available with a single click, audio was set at a medium level and my desktop was set to the maximum possible resolution. By default Parsix disables taps as clicks on touchpads, but the option to enable this feature is available (and easy to find) through the mouse configuration app. When running in a virtual environment I found Parsix could boot and run with 128 MB of RAM, though performance started to slowly drop off when memory was set below 512 MB.
When I first fired up the live DVD my impression of Parsix was that of yet another Debian derivative and, to make matters worse, one with an out-dated Ubuntu theme -- not the most flattering of first impressions. The installer didn't exactly do anything to improve my view. However, post-install, Parsix really delivered. It's responsive, it's very light on resources and it comes bundled with a wide array of good applications. The developers have generally stuck to one application per task and it gives the user a lot of functionality without over-stuffing the menu. The distribution has its own repositories so, while it is based on Debian's Testing branch, Parsix users have a small buffer between themselves and upstream. The Debian repository is included in the APT source list, but is commented out by default, so users wishing to get closer to the upstream project need only to uncomment the entry.
Parsix does a good job of polishing up Debian Testing for end users without gumming up the system with extras. Hardware, codecs and Flash all worked right from the start and I encountered no series problems with the distribution. Though the installer is still in development, the rest of the distro is about as close as we can get to "just works". Parsix provides a good modern desktop experience without frills or fuss and my week with the distro was pleasantly uneventful.
|Miscellaneous News (by Ladislav Bodnar)
OpenBSD opens 5.0 pre-orders, openSUSE switches to beta testing, Ubuntu board leader suggests monthly release process, interview with Debian's Enrico Zini
The upcoming release of OpenBSD 5.0, scheduled for 1 November 2011, is starting to take shape, with the new OpenBSD 5.0 page now live with all the glory technical details. As the tradition dictates, a new song was also unveiled last week, while the pre-orders page is now ready for our patronage as well. This financial support is particularly important for the free software project which makes its flagship product available as a gratis download. Theo de Raadt, the OpenBSD founder and project leader makes this clear in a message on the openbsd-misc mailing list: "Please keep in mind that donations and CD, T-shirt and poster sales, done twice a year, are crucial to the continuation of the project. It may seem strange to keep selling such out-dated types of items and expecting it to keep the project afloat, but so it goes. As collector items they do pay expenses around here. Besides donations done along with a CD or T-shirt purchase, there are a few other options for donations and described here. Thanks for continuing to let us make OpenBSD." The good news for those who order the official CD sets is that they usually arrive several weeks before the formal release and before the new ISO images show up on the project's FTP server.
* * * * *
Another free software project busily finalising its forthcoming release is openSUSE. A slight modification to the development process was announced last week - instead of milestone 6, the next development snapshot will be named "beta" - in order to attract more testers. Jos Poortvliet explains: "Starting about six weeks after the first release, six monthly milestones followed by two release candidates are published for testing. From the sixth milestone onwards only major, critical and blocker bug fixes are allowed and localization testing commences. Most other projects refer to this stage as 'beta testing' and the release team of openSUSE has decided to follow this naming from now on. Release team coordinator Stephan Kulow notes: 'The sixth milestone has sometimes gotten less testing than it deserved. We want to ensure the quality and stability of openSUSE and give users the best experience as possible. We need help from the wider community to find and fix the bugs in this release and this beta is the perfect opportunity to help out!'" The beta release of openSUSE 12.1 is scheduled to arrive on 22 September 2011.
* * * * *
In these days of continuous software development that takes place over the Internet, a fixed-schedule production of free operating systems is increasingly viewed as an outdated concept. The latest project that has stirred the discussion boards with an idea of more frequent releases is Ubuntu. Or to put it more precisely, Scott James Remnant, the Ubuntu technical board leader, has written a long blog post attempting to justify a monthly release mechanism for the Ubuntu distribution: "My proposal is a radical change to the Ubuntu release process, but surprisingly it would take very little technical effort to implement because all the pieces are already there including the work on performing automated functional and verification tests. I believe it solves the problem of landing unstable features before they're ready, because it almost entirely removes releases as a thing. As a developer you simply work in a PPA until you'll pass review, and land a stable feature that can replace what was there before. It solves the need for occasional stabilization and bug-fixing releases because the main series is always stable and can receive bug-fixes easily separate to any development work going on." Read also the 100+ comments that follow the above-mentioned blog post, then head for this Slashdot post for more interesting opinions on the subject.
* * * * *
Finally, a quick link to an interview with Debian GNU/Linux developer Enrico Zini: "Q: If you could spend all your time on Debian, what would you work on? A: If I could spend all my time on Debian, I would do a lot of software development: I love doing software development, but most of my development energy is spent on my paid work. I guess I would start my 'all your time in Debian' by taking better care of the things that I'm already doing, and by promoting them better so that I wouldn't end up being the only person maintaining them. After that, however, I reckon that I do have a tendency of noticing new, interesting problems in need(?) of a solution, and I guess I would end up wildly experimenting new ideas in Debian much like a mad Victorian scientist. Which reminds me that I most definitely need minions! Where can I find minions?" Read the rest of the interview to find out more about Enrico Zini's involvement with the New Maintainer process and about his plans and ideas for the upcoming release of Debian GNU/Linux, code name "Wheezy".
|Tips and Tricks (by Jesse Smith)
Working with media files on command line
Occasionally I get into discussions about the role of the command line and whether it still has a place in modern operating systems. Some people are put off by short, cryptic commands and prefer the ability to explore an interface and I can't deny that's a great strength of GUIs. A properly designed graphical interface doesn't require memorization or detailed manual pages, a good design and detailed tool tips will go a long way. But my introduction to computers, and to most operating systems, has been by way of command lines and they hold a special place in my heart. Which brings me to this week's topic. A little while ago someone claimed command lines weren't up to the challenge of dealing with media. After all, we can't watch movies or edit images on the command line, right?
Well, the truth is, we can. It may not be pretty, it may not be intuitive, but the command line can be used to deal with audio, image and video formats. Here are some quick tips for working with media and with files on the Linux command line.
Let's cover watching video files first. Media players like MPlayer and VLC allow us to select different types of output, this includes converting the image we see into motion picture ASCII art. You can see the effect by running either of these commands:
mplayer -vo aa MovieName.avi
That's for the black and white version. We can also watch our text-based movies in colour:
vlc MovieName.avi -V aa
mplayer -vo caca MovieName.avi
This isn't going to make for a smooth, pleasant viewing experience. These commands are mostly for the "because we can" crowd.
vlc MovieName.avi -V caca
This next command is helpful for learning more about photos. Image files often contain extra pieces of data, such as when they were taken, what software has been used to edit them, what camera took the picture, whether or not a flash was used, etc. We can access this information using the exif command:
Likewise we can get information out of music files. The popular MP3 format includes data tags letting us know the genre, track number, song title, year of recording and other tid-bits. We can access these data using the mp3info command:
The mp3info command can also be used to modify existing tags. The easiest way to do so is with the interactive (-i) parameter. Running in interactive mode will bring up the track's information in a form and we can move between the fields and edit them.
mp3info -i music_file.mp3
The next item we'll look at isn't directly related to media files, but it is a function I find come in handy quite often. The following command searches through the current directory (and all sub-directories) and removes the spaces from file names.
find . -name "* *" -print | ( while read a; do b=$(echo $a | sed 's/ //g') ; mv -i "$a" "$b" ; done )
In the above example the find command locates all files with spaces in their names. We then assign the original name to the variable "a". We use the sed command to remove spaces from name "a" and assign the result (the file name without spaces) to variable "b". At the end of the line the move command (mv) renames each file. The "-i" flag after the mv command insures we don't over-write any existing files during the renaming process.
Many of us now have digital cameras and, if you're like me, the photos you get off the camera are usually larger than you need. Especially if you plan on e-mailing a dozen of them to family or friends. If you have a photo you'd like to resize, there is a suite of tools called ImageMagick which can help. Here we use the convert program (a part of the ImageMagick suite) to make an image's dimensions smaller by 50%.
convert original.jpg -resize 50% -quality 95 smaller.jpg
We can also go the other way and blow up an image, doubling its width and height.
convert original.jpg -resize 200% -quality 95 bigger.jpg
Besides resizing images, we can also rotate them. In the following example we rotate an image 30 degrees, then rotate it 90 degrees.
convert ships.jpg -rotate 30 tilt-ships.jpg
The above examples work well for one image, but what if we need to process a thousand images? For that we need a loop.
convert ships.jpg -background none -rotate 90 turn-ships.jpg
for i in *.jpg; do b=new-$(echo $i); convert "$i" -resize 50% -quality 100 -background none -rotate 90 "$b"; done
The above command looks for all the JPEG images in the current directory. It then resizes each image so its dimensions are half their original sizes. The resized version of the image is then saved with a new file name. For instance, if the original was called "family_photo1.jpg" then the new image will be "new-family_photo1.jpg". The above example also rotates each image 90 degrees, a useful option if you've been shooting photos with your camera turned on its side.
Next up we can use the convert command to make a banner. The banner will be an image file containing text. The following command makes a banner with the text "Happy Birthday" on it.
convert -background white -fill blue -font Courier -pointsize 32 label:'Happy Birthday' banner.jpg
Useful, but what if we want to make a sign using the contents of a text file? Then we can replace our label parameter that used quotes with the @ sign, followed by a filename. The following takes the contents of the message.txt file and places it in an image called banner.gif:
convert -background white -fill black -font Courier -pointsize 12 label:@message.txt banner.gif
There is a lot we can do with a line of text at the command prompt. The above are a few simple examples I have found useful when dealing with various types of media.
|Released Last Week
ArchBang Linux 2011.09
Willensky Aristide has announced the release of ArchBang Linux 2011.09, a lightweight desktop distribution featuring the Openbox window manager, based on Arch Linux: "ArchBang Linux 2011.09 is out in the wild! If you already have ArchBang running smoothly on your system, you don't need to get this release. Changes: Latest Linux kernel 3.0.4; new look with some wallpapers made by fans included; paccheck added; gucharmap added; ALSA replaced by OSS, tint2 replaced by ADeskBar; Xfburn replaced by Graveman; ARandR replaced by LXRandR; Foxit Reader replaced by Zathura; Volume Icon replaced by ossxmix; Gcalctool replaced by galculator; removed xcompmgr, tintwizard, gsimplecal, Aufs, HAL, DMENU, GKSu, nouveau drivers. Have fun and report bugs in the official bug thread!" Here is the complete release announcement.
Andrew Gillis has announced the release of VortexBox Linux 1.10, a Fedora-based distribution designed to turn an old computer into a music server: "It has been a while since we released a new version of VortexBox and there are a lot of small fixes and tweaks in this new version. There are the usual updates such as a new Linux kernel and SqueezeBox server 7.6.1. There are also a lot of small updates such as increased UPnP player support. VortexBox now supports the latest Samsung TVs and the BeoSound 5 from Bang & Olufsen. We added a lot of user-requested features such as a one click restore button in the USB backup manager. We also added faster MP3 mirroring at the request of VortexBox users. This version has been tested with new products from Sonos and Logitech, including the new Play:3, to ensure these devices are fully supported. VortexBox 1.10 supports the new VortexBox Orbiter, a fanless player that automatically finds your VortexBox." The release announcement.
Bodhi Linux 1.2.0
Jeff Hoogland has announced the release of Bodhi Linux 1.2.0, an Ubuntu-based distribution featuring the latest development build of the Enlightenment 17 desktop: "20,000 forum posts and over 100,000 downloads later the Bodhi team and I are proud to announce our second point release - Bodhi Linux 1.2.0. Current Bodhi users can easily update their system to this latest release. This release is largely for keeping packages up to date, so the following are the core system packages that have been updated for this release: Linux kernel 3.0, Enlightenment built from SVN on 2011-09-06, Midori 0.4.0. There is more to this release than just packages though. Our document team has been working furiously to improve our documentation, both on our Wiki and our locally installed pages. Our recently published 'Bodhi Guide to Enlightenment' is also now stored locally for offline use in the Midori web browser." See the full release announcement for more information.
* * * * *
Development, unannounced and minor bug-fix releases
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Summary of expected upcoming releases
New distributions added to database
- Proxmox. Proxmox is a commercial company offering specialised products based on Debian GNU/Linux, notably Proxmox Virtual Environment and Proxmox Mail Gateway. Proxmox Virtual Environment is an open-source virtualization platform for running virtual appliances and virtual machines. Proxmox Mail Gateway is a mail gateway with anti-spam and anti-virus features. The products are offered as free downloads with paid-for support and subscription options.
* * * * *
DistroWatch database summary
* * * * *
This concludes this week's issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 19 September 2011.
Jesse Smith and Ladislav Bodnar
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